Magic, in some ways, was dispelled for me at the Skoltz_Kolgen
show Thursday night. In the first piece, the duo presented themselves as live performers, sitting at a low table in the middle of the room and occasionally tapping and playing objects (er, instruments?) in addition to the keypads of their laptop computers and sequence controllers. The video bloomed in digital black and white on all four screens of Recombinant Media Lab's performance room, quivering and unfurling around the audience with vegetative tendrils that seemed to respond quite specifically to musical events. The abstract visuals marked musical form in a pure and beautiful way. Dreamy, glitchy, pingy sounds and an oceanic harmonic underpinning tugged at the sensitive edge of my emotions but, though I'm easily won over by simple feats of sound processing, some of the pure representations of physics failed to impress me as a performative risk: Mr. Kolgen tapped on the body of the supine violin and a measured dribble of knocking sounds sent scientific spasms through the glowing designs on-screen(s). Well, ok, that's the computer for you. Make no mistake: the show was definitely one of the best sleight-of-hand collaborations between audio and visual I'd seen in recent weeks--subtle, spacious and surprising as well as clean and delicate--but at a certain point I missed that...elusive...quality of live, truly live
, performance. In this situation, one might anthropomorphize the audio/visual and measure the collaborative efforts at that level (skipping right over the two individuals sitting on the floor) but for me, nothing approached the magic I've come to expect from collaborative performance. Even if it's Just Music playing with Just Video, both electronically created and offered on abstract, technological terms, I want some (personal? humanistic?) element of fear and trust, action and response, antagonism and agreement, independence and unity. That's the magic of performing live.
At intermission a curious truth came to light: the video was fixed (pre-made) and not triggered or affected by the music at all. Ah ha! The duo successfully made it seem like a real-time performance (kudos to them for what must have been diligent practice and rehearsal sessions) and yet I had felt, at some deep level, a hollowness.
For the second half of the program, Skoltz_Kolgen moved to a far corner of the room (not bothering to feign performance) and presented an exciting, driving, thunderous piece of physical audio (+ visuals). There is something to be said for "it's so loud you feel like you've been at the gym for an hour." Yes, indeed. My own personal goal, however, is to reach that level with the guarantee of no hearing damage. I'd like to make music that (whether from sheer volume or sheer astonishment) knocks you over, no earplugs required.